02/11/2013 12:18 PM
Benedict Bows Out: Vatican Confirms That Pope Will Step Down
In a surprise development, the Vatican confirmed Monday that Pope Benedict XVI will step down later this month. He is only the second pope in the Vatican's history to do so.
The Vatican on Monday confirmed reports published by respected Italian media that Pope Benedict XVI of Germany would step down from his position on Feb. 28.
In a statement, the pope, who is 85 years old, said his old age was his reason for abdicating the papacy. "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry." Pope Benedict also said he was "well aware of the seriousness of this act.
After leaving the Catholic Church's highest position, Benedict said he wished to "devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, honored Benedict XVI for his life in the church. "The German government has the utmost respect for the Holy Father, for his work, for his life's work in the Catholic Church." He thanked Benedict for his eight years of service as the world's top Catholic official. Seibert said Merkel would make a statement about the pope herself later on Monday. The fact that the current pope originates from Germany has been a source of considerable pride for many Germans since Benedict XVI, born Joseph Ratzinger, since his appointment on April 24, 2005. After his selection as the church's leader, the tabloid daily Bild famously ran the words "Wir sind Papst!," or "We're the pope," on its front cover.
Benedict is the first pope to resign since Celestine V., who voluntarily abdicated the papacy just months after he became the leader of the Catholic Church in 1294.
Check SPIEGEL ONLINE International later today for complete coverage of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation.
Pope Benedict's resignation brings end to paradoxical papacy
Messages the former Joseph Ratzinger hoped to convey were all but drowned out by string of controversies
John Hooper in Rome
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 February 2013 12.07 GMT
Pope Benedict XVI's abrupt resignation on Monday heralds the end of a sad and storm-tossed seven-year papacy.
The former Joseph Ratzinger came to the highest office in the Roman Catholic church with a reputation as a challenging, conservative intellectual. But the messages he sought to convey were all but drowned out, first by a string of controversies that were largely of his making, and subsequently by the outcry – particularly in Europe – over sexual abuse of young people by Catholic clerics.
Ratzinger had spent almost a quarter of a century in the Vatican, so it was reasonable for the cardinals who elected him to assume he understood it inside out, and would be keen to improve its workings. But, although he had been an influential and trusted lieutenant of John Paul II, the new German pope was a paradox.
On the one hand, he was intellectually remorseless. Not for nothing had he attracted the nickname "God's rottweiler". Yet, like many scholars, he was personally timid – wholly lacking in that desk-thumping vigour needed to foist reforms on clerics whose resistance to change is the stuff of legend.
Clergy abuse scandals
The abuse scandals dominated his nearly eight years as leader of the world's Catholics. Before his accession, there had been scandals in the US and Ireland. But in 2010, evidence of clerical sexual abuse was made public in a succession of countries in continental Europe, notably Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Germany.
The pope was personally affected by one of these scandals. It emerged that, while he was archbishop of Munich, a known molester was quietly reassigned to duties that, in time, allowed him to return to pastoral duties and make contact with young people.
The flood of allegations represented a vast setback for the project at the heart of Benedict's papacy. The goal he had set for himself, and for which he was elected, was to launch the re-evangelisation of Europe, Catholicism's heartland: it was why he adopted as his papal name that of the continent's patron saint, Benedict of Nursia. But if the numbers of the faithful in Europe as the pope leaves office are fewer than when he was elected, then – surveys repeatedly indicated – it is in large part because of anger and despair in the Catholic laity over the sex abuse scandals.
For his supporters, this was richly ironic – and monstrously unfair. In 2001, his predecessor John Paul II transferred the responsibility for dealing with it to sexual abuse cases to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican department then headed by Ratzinger. Nothing if not diligent, the future Pope Benedict personally read much of the testimony and, say his apologists, he was deeply shocked and moved by what he learned.
From that point on, they argue, he was determined, in a way his predecessor had never been, to do all in his power to prevent the sexual abuse of children and adolescents by Catholic priests. And it is this that he appears to have been referring to when, in 2005, as John Paul lay dying, he decried the "filth there is in the church".
Before he was elected to be pope, Ratzinger undoubtedly tightened the procedures for dealing with paedophile, hebephile and ephebophile clerics. But critics have argued that a letter he issued in 2001 to dioceses around the world did not make sufficiently clear the responsibility of bishops to inform the civil authorities. Their frequent reluctance to do so was a key reason why evidence of sexual abuse did not surface earlier.
Insufficient vigour in the pursuit of his aims was a charge also levelled at Benedict after he became pope. He showed no interest, for example, in introducing specific reforms to filter out potential abusers before they were appointed to pastoral care. As he made clear in his 2010 letter to Irish Catholics, he believed that the sins of the clergy were an expression of insufficient sanctity rather than a product of defective procedures.
It was not until the same year that he created a Vatican department charged with the mission that was originally central to his pontificate. Even then, the so-called Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation was viewed by Vatican insiders as lacking clout.
Curia reform thwarted
A subsidiary aim of – or hope for – Benedict's papacy had been that he would use it to shake up the Roman Curia, the central administration of the Catholic church. The charismatic Pope John Paul II was not the sort of man to occupy his time with the reorganisation of a bureaucracy, and by the end of his 26-year pontificate, the Curia was sorely in need of modernisation.
Twice Pope Benedict tried to merge departments and twice he was foiled. The creation of the new department for re-evangelisation meant that the Vatican bureaucracy is actually larger and more complex at the end of his tenure than it was at the start.
His retiring personality also meant he came to the job with a limited range of contacts in the Curia. And it showed in his appointments. He gave the top post of secretary of state to his former deputy at the CDF, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, an affable cleric but with no experience of the department on which he was imposed.
The pope's failure to establish a grip on the Curia was to cost him dear, all the more because he showed a marked reluctance to consult others, especially on the impact that his words and decisions might have in the world beyond the Vatican.
The result was a series of gaffes in the early years of his pontificate. In 2006, he outraged Muslims when, in a scholarly lecture at his old university in Regensburg, he used a quotation to the effect that the contributions made by Muhammad were "only evil and inhuman".
That, at least, had the effect of stimulating an exchange with a group of Muslim scholars. But little that was positive emerged from other controversies.
Pope Benedict offended indigenous Latin Americans by claiming that the colonisation of their continent had not involved "the imposition of a foreign culture". And he angered Jews by allowing wider use of the old, Tridentine liturgy, which includes a Good Friday plea that they be "delivered from their darkness".
That decision stemmed from the pope's keenness to heal the breach with the ultra-traditionalists of the Society of Saint Pius X. In 2009, another raging controversy erupted when he lifted the excommunication of four of the society's bishops.
One was a Holocaust-denying Briton, Richard Williamson. The Vatican said Pope Benedict had been unaware of Williamson's views when he acted. But its disclaimer only raised the question of why that should have been so, particularly given the vulnerability in this area of a pope who, as a boy, had belonged to the Hitler Youth.
The cardinals who elected Benedict had clearly hoped for a short papacy after the lengthy reign of his predecessor. Joseph Ratzinger was the oldest man to be given the job since 1730, his advancing years increasingly apparent during his most recent international forays and his much-vaunted attempt to keep up with the modern world by opening a twitter account.
By choosing someone who had advised Pope John Paul on some of his most important decisions and teachings, they also showed they were voting for continuity. But if the aim of the 2005 conclave was to cue up a tranquil, stopgap, tread-water pontificate then the cardinals who composed it were comprehensively thwarted.
Yet another row blew up in 2009 when Pope Benedict argued that the distribution of condoms in Africa, far from alleviating the problem, was actually making it worse. His claim brought widespread international condemnation, not only from campaigners but also from governments and international bodies.
So it was ironic that the same pope should have been responsible for a profoundly ambiguous reference on the same, critically important subject. In an interview published in 2010, he said that the use of a condom by a prostitute who was attempting to protect his or her client from the HIV virus could be justified on the grounds that it could represent an assumption of moral responsibility.
Vatican officials stressed that Pope Benedict was not condoning artificial methods of birth control. But his remark nevertheless called into question his church's refusal to sanction the use of condoms, even for purposes of disease prevention. It could yet turn out to have been the most significant initiative of Pope Benedict's papacy.
Mali conflict: French-led forces retake Gao after surprise attack by rebels
Soldiers conduct house-by-house search in northern city for last remaining Islamist fighters after two days of heavy fighting
Afua Hirsch, west Africa correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 February 2013 13.08 GMT
French and Malian forces have regained control of northern Mali's largest city after two days of instability and heavy fighting with Islamist rebels.
Soldiers cordoned off Gao and were conducting a house-by-house search to find any remaining fighters, sources said, after rebels invaded over the weekend by launching a surprise attack on the city.
"Yesterday was like nothing I have ever seen before," said a person in Gao who did not want to be named. "There was heavy gunfire for over four hours, there were street battles with the Malian and French soldiers fighting against the jihadists."
"Early this morning we heard a large bomb blast but no one seems to know what it is."
Many residents in Gao barricaded themselves in their homes during the weekend while fierce clashes took place outside in the streets.
On Monday morning many emerged around the heavily damaged police headquarters in the centre of Gao, where body parts lay strewn.
"Yesterday we heard the gunfire and hid in our homes all evening," Gao resident Soumayla Maiga told Associated Press. "We were stunned when we came out and saw what happened."
The French and Malian armies, part of an international military intervention against al-Qaida-linked groups operating in northern Mali, said Gao was now back under their control.
But the Malian government said Gao remained volatile.
"The situation is being managed by the military, but it is changing rapidly," Manga Dembele, the minister of communication, said. "As to whether the efforts are enough to rid the north of Islamists, we can't say until the conclusion of the military operation."
Recent events in Gao have heightened fears of a prolonged conflict in the country, where French air strikes have reportedly driven rebels into desert hiding places in the vast northern Sahara.
There were suicide bomb attacks in Gao on Saturday and Sunday – the first in Mali – in checkpoint blasts that one Islamist group – Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao) – claimed it had carried out.
"What's happening in Gao is serious, but it's what most observers expected," a Bamako-based western diplomat said. "It's difficult to say whether this is some sort of final stand of the last few Islamists remaining around Gao, or whether they have the people and resources to stay and fight for years. I suspect it's more towards the former than the latter.
"Local people are very hostile to the Islamists, which makes this situation very different from Afghanistan, for example. This local popular support for the French intervention will make it much more difficult for these terrorist groups to operate in northern Mali."
February 10, 2013
Damascus on Edge as War Seeps Into Syrian Capital
By an employee of THE NEW YORK TIMES in DAMASCUS SYRIA and ANNE BARNARD
DAMASCUS, Syria — Unkempt government soldiers, some appearing drunk, have been deployed near a rebel-held railway station in the southern reaches of this tense capital. Office workers on 29th of May Street, in the heart of the city, tell of huddling at their desks, trapped inside for hours by gun battles that sound alarmingly close.
Soldiers have swept through city neighborhoods, making arrests ahead of a threatened rebel advance downtown, even as opposition fighters edge past the city limits, carrying mortars and shelling security buildings. Fighter jets that pounded the suburbs for months have begun to strike Jobar, an outlying neighborhood of Damascus proper, creating the disturbing spectacle of a government’s bombing its own capital.
On Sunday, the government sent tanks there to battle rebels for control of a key ring road.
In this war of murky battlefield reports, it is hard to know whether the rebels’ recent forays past some of the capital’s circle of defenses — in an operation that they have, perhaps immodestly, named the “Battle of Armageddon” — will lead to more lasting gains than earlier offensives did. But travels along the city’s battlefronts in recent days made clear that new lines, psychological as much as geographical, had been crossed.
“I didn’t see my family for more than a year,” a government soldier from a distant province said in a rare outpouring of candor. He was checking drivers’ identifications near the railway station at a checkpoint where hundreds of soldiers arrived last week with tanks and other armored vehicles.
“I am tired and haven’t slept well for a week,” he said, confiding in a traveler who happened to be from his hometown. “I have one wish — to see my family and have a long, long sleep. Then I don’t care if I die.”
For months, this ancient city has been hunched in a defensive crouch as fighting raged in suburbs that curve around the city’s south and east. On the western edge of the city, the palace of the embattled president, Bashar al-Assad, sits on a steep, well-defended ridge.
In between, Damascus, with its walled Old City, grand diagonal avenues and crowded working-class districts, has remained the eye of the storm. People keep going to work, even as electric service grows sporadic and groceries dwindle, even as the road to the airport is often cut off by fighting outside the city, and even as smoke from artillery and airstrikes in suburbs becomes a regular feature on the horizon.
But after rebels took the railway station 10 days ago in a city district called Qadam and attacked Abassiyeen Square on an approach to the city center on Wednesday, a new level of alarm and disorder has suffused the city. Rebels have pushed farther into the capital than at any point since July, when they briefly held part of a southern neighborhood.
Near the Qadam railway station last week, many of the government soldiers, their hair and beards untrimmed, wore disheveled or dirty uniforms and smelled as if they had not had showers in a long time. Some soldiers and security officers even appeared drunk, walking unsteadily with their weapons askew — a shocking sight in Syria, where regimented security forces and smartly uniformed officers have long been presented as a symbol of national pride.
The deployment appeared aimed at stopping the rebels from advancing past Qadam, either across the city’s ring road and toward the downtown or to suburbs to the east to close a gap in the opposition’s front line.
But even stationed here in Damascus, the heart of the government’s power, the soldier at the checkpoint — who was steady on his feet — said he felt vulnerable.
“It is very scary to spend a night and you expect to be shot or slaughtered at any moment,” he said. “We spend our nights counting the minutes until daytime.”
The government has hit back hard, striking Qadam with artillery and airstrikes. It has also made pre-emptive arrests in Midan, the neighboring district, closer to downtown, where rebels gained a temporary foothold in July and which they said was their next target.
Soldiers summarily executed four people in Qadam on Friday, according to the Local Coordinating Committees, an anti-Assad activist network, though it was unclear if the victims were would-be military defectors or captured rebels.
On a recent journey along the front line, a traveler saw soldiers speaking harshly to residents at checkpoints outside Yarmouk Camp, a long-contested area east of Qadam that is home to both Syrians and Palestinian refugees, who have lived there for decades. Rebels took over much of the camp in December, drawing government airstrikes that drove out most residents. But about 20 percent of those people appear to have returned, in part, they said, because the government had attacked another refugee camp where they had taken shelter.
A Palestinian refugee who gave only a nickname, Abu Muhammad, was carrying a sack of bread into the camp. He said that he had started out with three sacks for his wife and three sons, but that officers — he said they were from Mr. Assad’s Alawite sect — had shouted at him and confiscated two sacks, accusing him of taking bread to the rebels.
The government is pressing Palestinians to take the camp back from the rebels, Abu Muhammad said. He said that was an absurd demand from a government that bombed its own people, but made no response to last month’s airstrike by Israel. “Why doesn’t the regime send its ‘hero’ army to liberate the camp?” he said.
Another center of recent fighting is just northeast of the city. Rebels who have taken over much of the suburb of Qaboun recently pushed across the ring road there into the city neighborhood of Jobar. From there, said Abu Omar al-Jobrani, a leader of fighters in the area, they moved mortars close enough to attack a munitions factory and air force security headquarters near Abassiyeen Square, a traffic circle that is near a major stadium and that provides access to downtown.
Reports of rebel strikes on Wednesday on such a central landmark, which appeared to be backed up by videos showing black smoke pouring across the plaza, raised new fears in the capital. The government closed the roads around the square, causing traffic jams deep into downtown, and sent dozens of security men to protect the Parliament building. Terrified residents of the central Old City closed their shops.
Fighting continued over the weekend, as the government and rebels fought for control of the ring road near Jobar. Shells and airstrikes kept raining on the neighborhood, sending dust and smoke into the air, higher than the minarets on its mosques.
Anne Barnard reported from Beirut, Lebanon.
Israel approves construction of 90 settler homes in the West Bank
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 11, 2013 7:10 EST
Israel has given final approval for 90 new homes in Beit El settlement near Ramallah in a move likely to spark tension ahead of a top-level visit by US President Barack Obama, officials and an NGO said Monday.
Hagit Ofran of the Peace Now settlement watchdog said the plans had been published for validation in an Israeli newspaper in what was the “final stage of approval”, meaning construction of the new homes could begin “within a few days.”
The plans were signed off by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak in August but received the final rubber stamp on Sunday by the Civil Administration’s planning committee, she said.
The move comes just days after the White House announced that Obama would make his first-ever visit to Israel as president on a trip expected to take place in late March.
The stalled peace process is one of three key issues which will be up for discussion. Talks broke down more than two years ago in a major dispute over settlements.
The Beit El construction plans were hurriedly put together as a compensatory measure for settlers who were evicted last year from Ulpana, an unauthorised settlement outpost on the outskirts of Beit El which was evacuated following a High Court ruling.
A Civil Administration spokesman confirmed the approval for the 90 units, saying they had been signed off by the political establishment.
“We’re talking about the validation of a project which was already approved in August … in the framework of orders from the political establishment after the High Court decision,” he told AFP.
Ofran said it meant the bulldozers could now get to work immediately.
“They can start building within a few days,” she said.
The approval was pushed through despite the fact that Israel is currently between governments following last month’s general elections, with coalition talks likely to continue for several more weeks.
“Even though there is not yet a new government in place they are still allowing settlement procedures to continue instead of putting them on hold which is a telling sign about this new government,” Ofran said.
On Sunday, the defence ministry confirmed it had given the green light for the construction of 346 new settler homes in two settlements in the southern West Bank: 200 housing units in Tekoa and 146 in Nokdim.
The international community views all Israeli construction on occupied Palestinian land as a violation of international law, and the Palestinians have refused to return to peace talks while Israel builds on land they want for a future state.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
1m Sudanese trapped in dire need beyond reach of aid agencies
NGOs criticised for not securing access to people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions as hunger crisis worsens
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 February 2013 11.08 GMT
MDG : Kordofan : Yida Refugee Camp Struggles To Cope With Population Swelling, Sudan
People wait to receive medical treatment at a clinic at a refugee camp in Yida, South Sudan, along the border with Sudan. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
The former head of the UN in Sudan has criticised NGOs for failing to campaign for aid to flow to people trapped in a war zone on the border with South Sudan.
A war is taking place in South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces, just north of Sudan's border with South Sudan. The conflict erupted in June 2011 just before the south's independence in July.
Mukesh Kapila, who crossed into the war zone without government permission during a visit last month, says there is a "puzzling silence" from aid agencies about the crisis. "Their silence kills," he said.
Last month, the director of operations for the UN humanitarian division, John Ging, told the UN security council that nearly 1 million people are in dire need, but not in reach of aid workers, forcing some to rely on roots and leaves for food. Describing the situation as a "severe humanitarian crisis", Ging said the UN had received first-hand reports from civilians fleeing these areas.
Responding to Kapila's criticisms, Oxfam said it has been highlighting the situation for months. "We've done a lot of advocacy here in Khartoum with the government to allow humanitarian actors, both national and international groups, to be able to access rebel-held areas and to better reach underserved government-held areas," said Oxfam's Sudan country director, El Fateh Osman.
"Partly as a result, we have seen some small improvement in access since the conflicts broke out, although, unacceptably, humanitarian agencies still don't have access to communities across Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile."
Kitty Arie, director of advocacy at Save the Children, described the situation as "very difficult and complex". "We are trying to balance meeting the immediate needs of children with highlighting publicly the factors that contribute to their plight," she said.
Neither agency wants to risk losing access to the rest of Sudan by alienating the government of President Omar al-Bashir. Relations between the Sudanese authorities and the aid agencies have been difficult, with the government expelling agencies in 2009 and again in June last year. But Kapila, who directed UN operations in Sudan in 2004 and broke the story of the Darfur crisis, believes this approach is mistaken.
"It is pointless to curry favour with the government in Khartoum as they turn access on and off for their own, other reasons," he said. "It is immoral to trade off humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile with the NGOs' work elsewhere in Sudan. This kind of attitude really makes me angry."
Other major aid agencies, speaking off the record, said that although they were not openly campaigning for access, they are crossing into the war zone from South Sudan – a journey they make without Sudanese permission. It isn't just international NGOs that are doing this: local charities have been carrying out operations in the area since before the war. The US government has been supporting their efforts, trucking aid into Sudan for several months. As many as 400,000 people are said to have been given food aid.
In an interview in September, rebel leader Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu credited food from USAid with saving lives.
Aid is being taken in covertly, on what the agencies describe as a "modest scale" and without publicity. "Khartoum knows where we are," a relief worker said. "But doing it in a public way would add insult to injury."
The Sudan People's Liberation Movement (North) holds large areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The group, an offshoot of the movement that fought Khartoum for more than two decades until winning independence for South Sudan, has been trying to negotiate to get aid to areas under its control for the past year. In February 2012, SPLM (North) signed an agreement with the UN, African Union and Arab League allowing unrestricted access to all areas. This was backed by the security council in May.
But Khartoum has consistently prevented access. In June, Valerie Amos, the UN head of humanitarian affairs, accused the Sudanese authorities of accepting the proposals in principle, but not allowing them in practice.
Kapila said that if Bashir continues to hold up aid, he would want to see the launch of a full-scale cross-border operation into Sudan. This would replicate Operation Lifeline Sudan, which was launched in 1989 and united more than 40 NGOs to get aid into the south, despite bombing raids from Khartoum. It would be a risky strategy, but the aid wing of the SPLM (North) warned at the end of December that people are starting to die from hunger.
• Martin Plaut is senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Hungary: ‘Harsher than a cold winter’
11 February 2013
A number of "hunger marches" involving several hundred people, which have been organised in different parts of the country by the opposition and some city mayors to protest against poverty in Hungary, will converge in front of the Parliament building in Budapest on Monday.
The marchers will then take part in a major demonstration against the "anti-social" policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
February 11, 2013
Scotland Faces More Hurdles if It Approves Independence
By STEPHEN CASTLE
LONDON — Scotland would have to renegotiate membership in the European Union and other international organizations if it votes for independence in a referendum next year, according to legal advice published on Monday by the British government.
The unusual decision to make public an official legal opinion rekindled and intensified the debate over the terms under which Scotland might achieve a divorce from the rest of Britain — a discussion being watched closely in other parts of Europe where separatism is on the rise.
The authors of the legal brief reached conclusions that are in line with arguments already made by the British government. Still, the document drew a prickly response from advocates of Scottish independence, who have treated the question of European Union membership for an independent Scotland as essentially a technical issue.
The European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, said last year that an independent Scotland would have to apply for membership. That raised the possibility that Scotland would, like other newly admitted members, be obliged to adopt the euro currency, an unpopular prospect in Scotland. Britain, which was a member of the union before the euro was created, has no such obligation and has formally opted out.
The legal advice suggests that if Scotland becomes independent, it will be a “new state,” while the “remainder of the United Kingdom” would be considered a “continuing state,” according to a summary of the 57-page document that was released ahead of the full publication. The continuing state would automatically keep the rights, obligations, memberships, treaty relationships and powers under international law that the United Kingdom currently has, while the new state would have to start from scratch.
“For the U.K. government to argue that the U.K. will be a ‘continuing state’ and that an independent Scotland would have no rights betrays a near colonial attitude to Scotland’s position as a nation and gives lie to any suggestion that they see Scotland as an equal partner in the U.K.,” Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s pro-independence deputy first minister, told the BBC.
She added: “I do think this is an incredibly arrogant attitude for the U.K. government to take, that somehow they keep all the rights of the U.K. and Scotland gets nothing.”
“The reality is that the status of Scotland and the rest of the U.K. following a ‘yes’ vote in autumn 2014 and before Scotland became independent in 2016 will be determined not by assertions of law, but by negotiation and agreement,” she said.
Ms. Sturgeon had said on Sunday that Mr. Cameron’s attitude reminded Scots that he led a government that they did not vote into power. In the 2010 general election, Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party won only one of Scotland’s 59 seats in Parliament, and his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, only 11.
The debate on how Scotland might achieve independence has implications throughout Europe, particularly in Spain, where separatist sentiment is strong in Catalonia.
Spain’s Basques have a high degree of autonomy, as do the Flemish, Walloon and much smaller German-speaking communities in Belgium. Activists in those and other regions across the Continent are closely watching the constitutional debate in Britain, which comes at a time when pressure on public finances, following the debt crisis in the euro zone, has tended to inflame old grievances.
The British government’s legal opinion was written by two experts on international law, Prof. James Crawford of the University of Cambridge and Prof. Alan Boyle of the University of Edinburgh.
Their opinion said the only way that both Scotland and the rest of Britain would become “new states” in the legal sense would be if the rest of Britain agreed to adopt such a status — something that the British government has ruled out.
The document rejected the idea that an independence vote would create two such new states, and also rejects suggestions that an independent Scotland would revert to its status before the 1707 Acts of Union, which united Scotland and England. Before those acts, the two were separate states with separate parliaments under the same monarch.
Last week, Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, who is campaigning for independence, outlined transitional arrangements if Scotland voted “yes” next year. Under this blueprint, Independence Day would probably be in March 2016, with the first elections to a parliament for a fully independent Scotland taking place two months later.
On Sunday, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said: “I have no time for those who say there is no way Scotland could go it alone. I know firsthand the contribution Scotland and Scots make to Britain’s success — so for me there’s no question about whether Scotland could be an independent nation.”
“The real question is whether it should — whether Scotland is stronger, safer, richer and fairer within our United Kingdom or outside it.”
Alan Cowell contributed reporting.
02/11/2013 01:42 PM
The Viennese Swamp: Corruption and Attacks Mark Austrian Election Year
By Björn Hengst
Austria's political leadership has been mired in a swamp of scandal in recent months. With four state elections and a national poll scheduled for this year, the mudslinging has thus far been intense. The campaign has become particularly absurd on the far right.
Carinthia, the state in southern Austria, is in the grip of a group of political leaders who are just as bad as some of the worst dictators and war criminals recent history has produced. That, at least, is the message delivered by an advertisement recently created by the right-wing populist party Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ).
The ad, developed to be shown primarily in movie theaters ahead of a regional election in March, is called "Path to Freedom" and it portrays state political leaders interspersed with images of a handful of well-known dictators, including Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu, Slobodan Milosovic of Serbia, East German leader Erich Honecker and the recently deposed Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
"The time has come for us too," the ad intones. "Now!" It ends with an image of the famous raising of the US flag on the island of Iwo Jima in World War II. Instead of the American flag, however, the soldiers are raising the gold, red and white flag of Carinthia. "Free Carinthia on March 3, 2013," is the final message.
The advertisement is nothing if not overwrought. But as Austrians prepare for a quartet of state elections this year in addition to the general election set for September, its shrillness demonstrates the degree to which politics in the country has decayed in recent years. Rocked by a burlesque series of scandals and an ongoing -- and increasingly absurd -- power struggle among right-wing populist parties, the campaigns promise to be tasteless in the extreme.
The list of scandals is long and involves lawmakers from almost all the country's parties, but so far it has been the center-right Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) and the right-wing populist Freedom Party (FPÖ) that have suffered the most. Several former cabinet ministers from the 2000-2007 governing coalition which paired the two parties are under investigation, with some having been indicted. The list of transgressions includes bribery, passing on insider information during the privatization of public housing companies, accepting money to influence European Union law-making, nepotism in connection with the over-priced purchase of flu medication, money laundering and kick-backs connected to the 2007 sale of the state bank Hypo Alpe Adria. Among others.
Swamp of Corruption
In a recent report completed by the Green Party on the parliamentary committee investigation into the extent of corruption in Austria, the party came to the devastating conclusion that the country had "no serious laws to combat corruption" prior to June 2012, when a package of measures was passed. The country's dominant political culture promotes "corruption in two ways: there is no tradition of resigning from office and there is a culture of acquiescence."
Almost every party in the country has become mired in the swamp of corruption in some form or another, leading to voter disillusionment. The Social Democratic party SPÖ and the ÖVP had hoped to continue their governing coalition beyond the autumn election, but that prospect looks increasingly endangered. Voters are unsure of where to turn.
Many have opted to throw their support behind the billionaire political neophyte Frank Stronach, who has found some success in taking advantage of the unbroken string of scandals. A critic of the European Union but otherwise centrist in his outlook, Stronach -- founder of the auto parts company Magna -- has said he wants to emerge from this year as the country's strongest party. With Stronach currently polling between 7 and 10 percent, that isn't looking likely. Still, his popularity is surprising, particularly given that he has yet to present any kind of a political platform.
The 80-year-old Stronach will get his first progress report at the beginning of March, when voters in the state of Lower Austria head to the polls. And he has not been shy about criticizing the state's current governor Erwin Pröll, an ÖVP member who has led the state since 1992. Pröll, says Stronach, is a "terrible manager" and has governed his state "almost like a dictatorship."
'Hateful and Offensive'
It is the right-wing populists, however, who are perhaps facing the most decisive election year as two groups battle for supremacy. The face-off is the legacy left by Jörg Haider, who founded the FPÖ before breaking with the party in 2005 to found the BZÖ. Since then, the two parties have been battling for control of the right wing, with the Freedom Party of Carinthia cooperating with the FPÖ.
The power struggle is at times marked by an almost unbearable pathos. Kurt Scheuch, the head of the Freedom Party of Carinthia, recently published a "letter" to his deceased "friend Jörg," in the party's own paper, Kärntner Nachrichten. "We are taking care of your Carinthia, my friend," Scheuch wrote.
The BZÖ was furious, commenting that it was a "disgusting attempt by the betrayers of Haider" to claim him as their own. It was the latest salvo in a strange fringe war. Indeed, just a year after Haider's death -- the right-wing idol died as a result of driving under the influence in 2008 -- the Carinthia chapter of the BZÖ broke off from the national party to work together with the FPÖ.
Bitterness, in short, is plentiful. As is desperation. The FPÖ has recently found itself sliding in the polls, in part because of the role its politicians have played in various corruption scandals. Whereas the party polled an incredible 29 percent in 2011, raising its hopes of moving into the Chancellery in Vienna, more recently it has slipped behind the SPÖ and the ÖVP and is polling 23 percent.
And the situation is even more threatening for the BZÖ. The party may have difficulties even surviving this year's string of elections; it is polling just 2 percent on the national level. The party's new advertisement isn't likely to help. So far, most cinema operators have refused to play the spot, saying it is "hateful and offensive."
EU budget: A convoluted compromise
8 February 2013
Trouw, Le Monde, El País, Die Welt
The leaders of the European Union have managed to save face thanks to the Byzantine wording of the compromise agreement they have found for the 2014-2020 EU budget. The austerity measures adopted, however, could be difficult to implement, notes the European press.
It took a delayed summit, overnight negotiations and numerous discussions in which national interests overshadowed all other considerations but the 27 heads of State and government have found a compromise agreement over the EU budget for 2014-2020.
This summit can be summed up as "bartering and bargain-hunting," says Dutch daily Trouw. The pressure to reach consensus is high, the paper says, but the leaders are concerned about the explanations they will have to furnish back home:
Logo – Trouw, Amsterdam
They want to find a common accord because the credibility of the Union is at stake. In addition, this long-term budget is a necessary condition for investment in infrastructure and research projects. Every one fears this is the last chance before 2014. Between now and then, there will have been [legislative] elections in Italy and the United Kingdom as well as a [local ballot] in Germany. The leaders do not want to have to admit back home that they gave up too much during the horse-trading.
Given the context, in order to "end their budgetary quarrel, Europeans decided to make a subtle difference between spending commitments and actual disbursement," explains French daily Le Monde
Logo – Le Monde, Paris
Europeans are distinguishing more than ever between commitment appropriations [legal pledges to provide finance, provided that certain conditions are fulfilled] - reduced to €960bn - and payment appropriations [bank transfers to the beneficiaries] totallying €908.4bn. This time, the gap [...] is taking on exceptional proportions. And, for the first time in the history of European construction, both are below the level of the 2007-2013 period.
The result of the summit could well be "a victory for the United Kingdom and for net donors," says Spanish daily El País. The paper calls the compromise presented on February 7 by the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, "a creative accounting game" and regretted that –
Logo – El País, Madrid
the months since the previous summit did not serve to ease positions. On the contrary, everyone is digging in their heels. Pro-European intentions have disappeared and each country is defending its interests tooth and nail.
From Berlin, Die Welt deems the result "not too bad, given the options." Historically hostile to an increase of the EU budget using tax-payer money, Die Welt hails, in particular, slashing at the "dinosaur at the core of EU subsidies," aid to agriculture.
Logo – Die Welt, Berlin
The decades-old attempt to harmonise quality of life within the EU is now envisaged more as a desire to provide opportunities for entrepreneurs rather than in preserving the entitlements of local politicians.
But to be implemented, warns Le Monde, the compromise must be approved by the European Parliament, which has yet to be convinced:
Logo – Le Monde, Paris
Martin Schulz, the president, takes exception with the austerity imposed by [British Prime Minister] David Cameron. He may criticise the large gap between the commitments and the payments agreed. He argues that this system generates a deficit because the actual payments may not find financing in the years to come.
European Union: ‘European budget: infrastructure projects abandoned’
11 February 2013
For the first time in its history, the EU adopts a budget decrease from the previous year. The leaders of the four main parliamentary groups have said that he could not vote "as" budget.
After more than twenty-four hours of negotiations during which European leaders have been reduced to glean minutes of sleep during rare moments of calm, the EU budget for the period 2014-2020 was finally approved . An agreement under the sign of austerity and rigor: Europe will be entitled to an envelope in commitment appropriations of EUR 960 billion against 994 billion over seven years (2007-2013). François Holland defended-softly-"good compromise." According to him, do not talk about losing or winning, each State having saved its interests, but "Europe has not been given a budget to match its ambitions," he admits, however.
For the first time in its history, its budget is significantly lower. The two main policies of the European Union, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and cohesion funds for the poorest regions, are being cut (-13% for the CAP from the previous budget and -9% for cohesion). In this context, the President promised that he "sanctuary" agricultural policy by obtaining an additional envelope that will help to keep in constant euros aid to French farmers' incomes. "It was a condition that I had set for accepting the agreement," he said.
In contrast, the European Commission should revise its high-speed ambitions for the future. Once again, there will be no policy of public works, or what to build Europe's energy or broadband. Funds allocated to major infrastructure projects have lost $ 20 billion over the 50 claimed. While François Hollande believes him that "growth" is not cropped, stressing that these expenses climbed 40% over the period 2007-2013. Albeit from a low point.
Yesterday, Britain was she delighted with the result. "We can be proud of, for the first time in the history of the European Union, the European credit card is amputated," said Prime Minister David Cameron.
Deal done! # EUCO HAS Agreed on # MFF for the rest of the decade. Worth waiting for.
- Herman Van Rompuy (@ euHvR) February 8, 2013
Arrived early Thursday afternoon, European leaders are really back in the thick of negotiations with six hours late in the evening. None of them was not satisfied recent proposals made by Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. So there was an afternoon of confabulations, both sides in the presence sharpening their arguments: on the one hand, the "spenders" met François Hollande joining the Italian Mario Monti and Mariano Rajoy Spanish. The other, David Cameron displayed alongside Dutch Mark Rutte, the Swede Fredrik Reinfeldt and Helle Thorning-Schmidt Danish demanding still more cuts. In the middle, Angela Merkel, yet close to the French positions at the football game Wednesday night, gave pledges to the United Kingdom, she wants to keep absolutely at the heart of the European game.
Three rounds of negotiations
Then, it took no less than three rounds of negotiations Twenty-Seven, interspersed with cuts to reach an agreement. Calculators and have turned around 21h Thursday evening 4:30 p.m. Friday. David Cameron did not want more than 930 billion euros in commitment appropriations budget. François Hollande with the support of Angela Merkel stood firm on 960 billion euros. But the British, rather than fight on this figure, has focused his tactics on another variable payment appropriations, that is to say, the actual expenditure. These are often lower than commitments as part of the projects financed by the Europe are not made on time.
The United Kingdom then initiated discussions with an uncompromising stance: no more than 886 billion in payment appropriations. The hours are then stretched at the discretion of billions London consented difficult to let go. To reach 908.4 billion money will actually be spent by 2020. "We went down to 930, 886 are mounted" summed François Hollande.
Last step, the parliamentary vote
The European Parliament now has the heavy responsibility to accept or reject the budget. Its president, the German Martin Schulz has warned Thursday Heads of State, reminding them that MPs had voted for the proposal of 1.033 billion from the European Commission. Yesterday after the announcement of the agreement, the leaders of the four main parliamentary groups have said he could vote "as" the budget, stressing that closes the door to growth.
Since the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament has the power to approve or reject the budget. "Martin Schulz was clear red lines of Parliament, and I have repeatedly warned my peers, who evoked their national parliaments," said François Hollande, stressing that it was the normal play democracy. Negotiations with members will engage in the coming days.
Report: U.S. economy ‘picks up’, while China’s ‘may slow’
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 11, 2013 7:30 EST
Economic activity in the United States is rising, in the eurozone it is steadying, but in China and India the growth trend is slowing, leading indicators from the OECD showed on Monday.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said that its index of leading indicators suggested that economic growth in the United States was “firming”.
Activity in Britain was also firming but at a slower pace than seemed to be the case a month ago, the OECD said in its monthly report on composite leading indicators which are considered a reliable pointer to activity in six months’ time.
In Japan and Brazil signs were emerging “of growth picking up.”
For the 17 members of the eurozone, and notably in Germany and Italy, the leading indicators “point to a stabilisation in growth prospects” but in France “growth is expected to remain weak.”
The OECD, which is a policy forum for 34 advanced economies but also monitors some other important economies, said that China and India appeared to be on a growth path but “below trend compared with more positive signals in last month’s assessment.”
The indicators for Canada and Russia continued to signal growth that was below trend, the OECD said.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
LGBT rights mostly out of reach in central and eastern Europe
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 11, 2013 2:04 EST
Ania and Yga have been inseparable for the last 17 years, living together as a couple in the Polish capital Warsaw but their love is seen as second class in this deeply Roman Catholic country.
As Britain and France legalise gay marriage, in January Polish lawmakers voted down three bills on civil unions for unmarried couples whether gay or straight.
With the Polish constitution defining marriage as a relationship between a man and woman, the drafts did not include the right for gays to marry or adopt. In July, parliament rejected four similar draft laws.
The conservative Polish scenario is repeated elsewhere in the region where homophobia is still an issue, except for the overwhelmingly secular Czech Republic, which allows gay couples legal rights within civil unions.
“It’s humiliating when I fill out official documents as Yga’s partner and bureaucrats cross out the word ‘partner’ and replace it with…’other’,” Ania Zawadzka told AFP.
Although the situation won’t change overnight in Poland, one of Europe’s most religious and conservative countries, a recent survey suggests acceptance of civil unions for lesbians and gays is slowly on the rise.
While 69 percent of Poles opposed gay marriage and adoption in a February survey, a majority 55 said they backed civil unions for both gay and straight couples.
For Robert Biedron, Poland’s only openly gay member of parliament, it’s an encouraging sign.
“We will continue to submit bills on civil unions until one of them is accepted because we want to live in an egalitarian society, without exclusion or discrimination,” Biedron, an MP with the anti-clerical Palikot Movement, told AFP recently.
“I can’t imagine a Poland in which civil unions won’t be recognised,” he added.
Having entered parliament for the first time in 2011, the Palikot Movement is part of a new wave on the left-wing of Poland’s political scene, until now dominated by ex-communists.
Supported mostly by young Poles, the movement is bent on shaking things up in the EU country of 38.2 million, the homeland of the late Pope John Paul, where around 90 percent of citizens declare themselves Catholic.
It has led the campaign for gay rights and for legalising marijuana and has shepherded both Biedron and Anna Grodzka, a transsexual, into parliament — all of which was unthinkable just a decade ago.
Things are different south of the border in the largely atheist Czech Republic. A survey there in May 2012 found three-quarters of respondents backed the country’s 2006 registered partnership law for lesbians and gays.
Fifty-one percent backed gay marriage, but 55 percent opposed the right to adopt for homosexuals, according to the CVVM pollsters.
In neighbouring Slovakia, which like Poland is strongly Catholic, parliament rejected a bill last year aimed at legal recognition for gay couples.
Leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico insists he is not opposed civil unions for gays, but “the issue is not on our party’s agenda at the moment.”
In Romania, homosexuality was illegal up until a decade ago. A 2011 survey showed 73 percent of respondents did not want gay people in their family; 45 percent did not even want to work with gays or lesbians. The capital Bucharest has hosted annual Gay Pride parades over the last nine years.
In former the Soviet Union, authorities long painted homosexuality as a lifestyle imported from the decadent West.
Members of the EU since 2004, the formerly Soviet Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania do not recognise gay partnerships.
“The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) situation has improved in the last two decades, but less than we expected, and it remains among the worst in Europe”, Vladimiras Simonko, a leading Lithuanian gay rights activist, told AFP.
In Latvia, a 2005 constitutional court ruling defined marriage as a union between a woman and man.
Meanwhile in Russia, where homosexuality was criminalised until 1993 and considered a mental illness until 1999, gay rights remain an issue veiled in social taboos.
Explorers complete Shackleton’s epic Antarctic journey a century later
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 11, 2013 2:32 EST
A team of exhausted but elated explorers successfully recreated Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic survival journey, completing a three-day climb across mountains despite a treacherous blizzard.
Expedition leader Tim Jarvis and Barry Gray reached the old whaling station at Stromness early Monday (2245 GMT Sunday) after a 900-metre (2,950-foot) climb over the mountainous interior of South Georgia.
“It was epic, really epic, and we’ve arrived here against the odds,” said Jarvis, who with Gray completed the climb using the same kind of clothing and gear that Shackleton and his men would have worn in 1916.
“The ice climb at the Tridents is a serious thing and Shackleton didn’t exaggerate — with ice at 50 degrees, with one wrong foot, we could have careened down a crevasse.”
Jarvis, 46, said he and Gray, 38, had more than 20 crevasse falls up to their knees during the climb with the latter plunging into one up to his armpits, requiring their one-man support crew to help pull him free.
“These early explorers were iron men in wooden boats and while modern man mostly travel around in iron vessels, I hope we’ve been able to emulate some of what they achieved,” he said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that everyone has a Shackleton double in them and I hope we’ve inspired a few people to find theirs.”
The crossing follows a 12-day re-enactment of Shackleton’s 800 nautical mile journey in a spartan lifeboat from Elephant Island to South Georgia, along with four other members of the British-Australian team.
Jarvis and Gray had planned to make the mountain crossing within 24 hours but were held up by an extreme storm.
They were forced to hunker down on the mountain, resorting to using a modern tent and sleeping bags to stay alive as snow and sleet and 50 knot winds pounded them on Saturday.
“We’ve had to adapt just as Shackleton and his men did and we had to survive,” said Jarvis, adding there were times they thought they might not make it.
Shackleton’s 1916 journey to raise the alarm about the sinking of his ship the Endurance is considered one of the greatest-ever survival tales.
During his third visit to the region the explorer’s boat became trapped in 1915 and sank 10 months later as it was crushed by the advancing ice.
After living on the floating ice until April 1916, they set off in three small boats for Elephant Island.
From there, Shackleton and five crew made the voyage to South Georgia, reaching their destination 16 days later to face the mountainous trek to the whaling station at Stromness to raise the alarm.
All members of the Endurance were eventually rescued.
Shackleton is considered among the great Antarctic explorers, along with Norway’s Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole in 1911, Australian explorer Douglas Mawson and Briton Robert Falcon Scott.
Watch a documentary about the original Shackleton adventure, The Endurance, below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6sjwZsroo8&feature=player_embedded
In the USA...
February 10, 2013
A Growing Trend: Young, Liberal and Open to Big Government
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
MISSOULA, Mont. — This funky college town, nestled along two rivers where five mountain ranges converge, has long been a liberal pocket, an isolated speck of blue in a deeply red state. Now Montana is electing more politicians who lean that way, thanks to a different-minded generation of young voters animated by the recession and social issues.
Sam Thompson, a 22-year-old environmental studies major at the University of Montana here, considers himself “fiscally conservative” but opposes cuts to Medicare; he expects to need health coverage when he grows old. Aaron Curtis, 27, a graduate student, admired Jon Huntsman, a moderate Republican, but could not stomach Mitt Romney’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
Billie Loewen and Heather Jurva, editors at the student newspaper, speak of a Depression-era mentality that is pushing their generation to back Democrats. Saddled with student debt, they worry about health care and are terrified that they will not find good jobs. “You might be just one accident away from losing everything,” said Ms. Jurva, who has worked 40 hours a week waiting on tables to put herself through school.
It is no secret that young voters tilt left on social issues like immigration and gay rights. But these students, and dozens of other young people interviewed here last week, give voice to a trend that is surprising pollsters and jangling the nerves of Republicans. On a central philosophical question of the day — the size and scope of the federal government — a clear majority of young people embraces President Obama’s notion that it can be a constructive force, a point he intends to make in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
“Young people absolutely believe that there’s a role for government,” said Matt Singer, a founder of Forward Montana, a left-leaning though officially nonpartisan group that seeks to engage young people in politics. “At the same time, this is not a generation of socialists. They are highly entrepreneurial, and know that some of what it takes to create an environment where they can do their own exciting, creative things is having basic systems that work.”
Here in Montana, a state that backed John McCain in 2008 and Mr. Romney last year, voters under 30 have helped elect two Democratic senators and a new Democratic governor. Nationally, young voters have since 2004 been casting their ballots for Democrats by far wider margins than previous young generations — a shift that could reshape American politics for decades.
Under-30 voters are “the only age group in which a majority said the government should do more to fix problems,” the nonpartisan Pew Research Center reported in November. In a Pew survey a year earlier, more than 8 in 10 said they believed that Social Security and Medicare had been good for the country, and they were especially supportive of seeing the programs overhauled so they would be intact when they retire. (Young people were also more open than their elders to privatizing the programs.)
And while Washington fights about how to cut the federal deficit, young voters believe that it is more important to create jobs, have affordable access to health care and develop “a world-class education system,” according to the Institute of Politics at Harvard.
Those sentiments were borne out in interviews here. When Forward Montana convened a focus group at a Missoula cafe to develop a “youth agenda” last week, the deficit did not register a mention. One attendee, Michael Graef, an 18-year-old who started a fitness business rather than attend college, said he rarely thought about the deficit.
“Education is top on my list,” he said. “If everybody is better educated, most of the other issues can work themselves out.”
Steve Bullock, the new Democratic governor, won after campaigning on a promise to freeze college tuition. Young voters also helped Senator Jon Tester, another Democrat, who narrowly ousted a Republican incumbent in 2006 and won re-election last year. Both times, polls stayed open hours past their official closing time to accommodate huge lines of students. Both times, Forward Montana ran huge voter registration drives — an effort that may “pay really big dividends” for Democrats in the future, said Christopher Muste, a political scientist here.
The victories rattled Republican state lawmakers, who are now trying to undo a Montana law that permits voters to register on Election Day. Republicans say last-minute registration creates long lines and confusion.
On campus here last week, dozens of students crowded into a stuffy conference room to hear Jorge Quintana, a Democrat and chief counsel to the Montana secretary of state, warn that their “voting rights are under attack.”
Nationally, voters under 30 accounted for 19 percent of the electorate last year, up from 18 percent in 2008. These millennials are by far the most ethnically and racially diverse voter cohort; whites account for just 58 percent of them, according to the Pew center, while 76 percent of older voters are white.
That diversity is partly why young voters skew liberal, said Scott Keeter, the center’s director of survey research. As more young people come of age, the electorate will grow more diverse. Unless Republicans break the bonds between Democrats and minorities, Mr. Keeter said, “this alignment is going to be baked into the younger generation.”
Kristen Soltis Anderson, who studies young voters for the Winston Group, which advises House Republicans, said her party ignores young voters at its peril. She sees “a real risk” that Republicans could lose millennials in the coming years.
So as Republican leaders focus on trying to attract more Hispanics and women, Ms. Anderson is urging them to develop a message that will appeal to the under-30 crowd by emphasizing nongovernmental alternatives to solving problems, as opposed to just limiting government.
“When you ask young voters what caused the recession, this whole idea that there wasn’t enough regulation, or it was George W. Bush’s fault, is present,” she said. “When conservatives make the argument, ‘Hey, the government needs to get out of the way and let you make decisions for yourself,’ a lot of young people don’t have this idea of the government as a boogeyman. So it makes the conservative message less resonant.”
There is, of course, no guarantee that millennials will hold onto their current liberal tendencies. Studies show that voters are heavily influenced by the president with whom they came of age; the Franklin D. Roosevelt generation, for instance, stayed Democratic for decades, while many in the Reagan generation remained Republican.
But views can evolve; baby boomers, who supported big government in their 20s and 30s, have become more conservative over time, the Pew center has found. While today’s young voters are more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans or independents, their ideas and philosophies are not quite fixed yet, said John Della Volpe, the polling director at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.
Here in Missoula, young people who voted for Mr. Obama last year said in interviews that they would be open to voting Republican, particularly if a candidate supports same-sex marriage. Young Republicans, too, hope their party will shift on that issue.
“The social issues are hard,” said Ashley Nerbovig, a 19-year-old who backed Mr. Romney. “It’s not realistic that you can be against gay marriage and abortion.”
If the economy had been in better shape, she said, “I would have picked Obama over Romney for social issues.”
Mr. Della Volpe said he saw opportunities for Republicans in the future if they could rebrand themselves. Democrats, meanwhile, are looking ahead, convinced by the data that their philosophy — if not their party — will prevail.
“My analysis has been for a while that it’s going to come down to not whether the government should address certain problems, but how,” said Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress in Washington. “We’ll shift from, ‘Does government even have a role?’ to ‘Given that government needs to play a role, what’s the best way of doing that?’ ”
He added: “I expect those to be the arguments 10 or 15 years from now. That would be a big shift, but I think it’s coming.”
February 10, 2013
Measure to Protect Women Stuck on Tribal Land Issue
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — At 26, Diane Millich fell in love with and married a white man, moving with him in 1998 to a home on her native Southern Ute reservation in southern Colorado where, in short order, her life was consumed by domestic violence.
Her story of beatings and threats, reconciliations and divorce — painfully common among Native American women — had a twist. Because her husband was white, the Southern Ute Tribal Police could not touch him, and because she was a Native American on tribal land, La Plata County sheriff’s deputies were powerless as well. She said she tried going to federal law enforcement, which did have jurisdiction, but that went nowhere.
After one of his beatings, she said, he even called the county sheriff himself to prove to her that he could not be stopped. Only after he stormed her office at the federal Bureau of Land Management and opened fire, wounding a co-worker, was he arrested. And even then, law enforcement had to use a tape measure to sort out jurisdiction, gauging the distance between the barrel of the gun and the point of bullet impact to persuade the local police to intervene.
Obscure as it might be, the issue of tribal court powers and Ms. Millich’s jurisdictional black hole has become the last remaining controversy holding up Congress’s broad reauthorization of the landmark Violence Against Women Act. The Senate on Monday is expected to approve the 218-page bill with broad, bipartisan support.
But in the House, Republican negotiators are still struggling over a 10-page section that would, for the first time, allow Native American police and courts to pursue non-Indians who attack women on tribal land. Supporters and opponents of the language acknowledge the plight of women like Ms. Millich. Native American women are two and a half times more likely to be raped. One in three will be assaulted, and three out of five will encounter domestic violence, said Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico.
“It was just crazy, now when I think back on how insane it was,” Ms. Millich said in an interview.
If a Native American is raped or assaulted by a non-Indian, she must plead for justice to already overburdened United States attorneys who are often hundreds of miles away.
“Native women should not be abandoned to a jurisdictional loophole,” Mr. Udall said.
But conservative opponents say the Senate’s language goes too far, empowering courts that are not equipped for the job and depriving defendants of constitutional rights without nearly enough recourse to federal courts and no guaranteed protections like those afforded by the Bill of Rights.
“This is a bill which could do so much good in the battle for victims’ rights, but unfortunately it is being held hostage by a single provision that would take away fundamental constitutional rights for certain American citizens,” Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “And for what? For what? In order to satisfy the unconstitutional demands of special interests.”
The fight is pitting a dry legal position against an emotional and politically potent one. Native American groups and women’s rights advocates say they are not special interests. They are voters, however.
“Let’s just talk politics here,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, who has been leading negotiations to end the impasse. “This will have passed the Senate. The president’s for it. And we’re holding up a domestic violence bill that should be routine because you don’t want to help Native women who are the most vulnerable over a philosophical point?”
Mr. Cole and another senior Republican, Representative Darrell Issa of California, have met repeatedly with Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, to try to get Republicans past the tribal courts issue. They have proposed extending Native American court powers but also offering non-Indian defendants a chance to appeal to federal law enforcement after arrest and after a conviction. Representatives from the National Congress of American Indians met with Cantor staff members last week as well — and they have backed the Issa-Cole compromise.
But with the Senate’s action, native groups say they will feel less pressure to water down the provision, not more. Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, said the tribes have tried to assuage Congressional misgivings, expanding financing and capacity, bolstering indigent legal representation, and changing rules to ensure that non-Indian defendants would face a jury of their peers, Indian and non-Indian alike.
At this point, said Ms. Pata, an Alaska Native, the opposition smacks of bias.
“When you see these amendments that give more rights to perpetrators than Native women, you start to wonder where the balance is,” she said. “We would give any other community in this country the resources and tools they need for justice, but we won’t give them to the Indians.”
Mr. Cole, whose state has one of the largest Indian populations in the country, agreed, to a point. He said some of his colleagues seem to “fear Indians are going to take out 500 years of mistreatment on us through this.”
“It’s that kind of fear, veiled in constitutional theories,” he said.
Republican leaders are eager to tamp down such accusations. Mr. Cantor took to the House floor last week to assure Democratic leaders that he cares “very deeply about women in the abuse situation, that we need to get them the relief that this bill offers,” and that he is even enlisting Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the talks.
But, he warned, “There’s been the introduction of some issues that are not directly related to the situation of domestic abuse on tribal lands.”
Advocates of the Senate’s tribal language — including some Republicans — say they are not giving up. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, went to the Senate floor on Thursday to denounce the violence endemic in her state’s native communities, and to say she will urge the House to move forward.
“You don’t give up when the cause is right,” she said.
For Ms. Millich, the issue is very much alive. Her ex-husband is in prison, but she said she still feels the threat.
“It would be really good,” she said, “that regardless of where violence takes place, they’re able to be prosecuted.”
February 10, 2013
Obama to Renew Drive for Cuts in Nuclear Arms
By DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — President Obama will use his State of the Union speech on Tuesday to reinvigorate one of his signature national security objectives — drastically reducing nuclear arsenals around the world — after securing agreement in recent months with the United States military that the American nuclear force can be cut in size by roughly a third.
Mr. Obama, administration officials say, is unlikely to discuss specific numbers in the address, but White House officials are looking at a cut that would take the arsenal of deployed weapons to just above 1,000. Currently there are about 1,700, and the new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia that passed the Senate at the end of 2009 calls for a limit of roughly 1,550 by 2018.
But Mr. Obama, according to an official who was involved in the deliberations, “believes that we can make pretty radical reductions — and save a lot of money — without compromising American security in the second term. And the Joint Chiefs have signed off on that concept.”
The big question is how to accomplish a reduction that Mr. Obama views as long overdue, considering that Republicans in the Senate opposed even the modest cuts in the new arms reduction treaty, called Start. The White House is loath to negotiate an entirely new treaty with Russia, which would lead to Russian demands for restrictions on American and NATO missile-defense systems in Europe and would reprise a major fight with Republicans in the Senate over ratification.
Instead, Mr. Obama is weighing how to reach an informal agreement with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for mutual cuts within the framework of the new Start — but without the need for ratification. Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, is planning to travel to Russia next month, officials say, to lay the groundwork for those talks. Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin will hold two summit meetings in the early summer.
Even as he revives a nuclear agenda that has been nearly moribund for two years, Mr. Obama is also expected to try to address new threats.
Within days of the State of the Union address, officials say, he plans to issue a long-anticipated presidential directive on combating cyberattacks aimed at American companies, financial institutions and critical infrastructure like the electric grid. The announcement comes at a moment of heightened attacks from China and, most recently, from Iran.
A lobbying effort by American companies last year defeated a bill in Congress that, in some versions of the legislation, would have required private companies to meet minimum standards of protection and to report attacks to the government. It died over objections that the bill would incur huge new costs and involve the government more deeply into private computer networks.
While Mr. Obama cannot impose the failed bill’s mandates by executive order, he is expected to give companies that control “critical infrastructure” access to an experimental government program that has been aimed at protecting defense contractors. The directive will also require the government to inform industry officials of cyberthreats detected by American intelligence agencies; that, in turn, may create some liability for companies that fail to react to the warnings.
The nuclear reduction plan has been debated inside the administration for two years, and the options have been on Mr. Obama’s desk for months. But the document was left untouched through the presidential election. The president wanted to avoid making the reductions a campaign issue with Mitt Romney, who declared at one point that Russia was now America’s “No. 1 geostrategic foe,” a comment that Mr. Obama later mocked as an indication that Mr. Romney had failed to move beyond the cold war.
Mr. Romney, in turn, leapt on a remark that Mr. Obama intended to make privately to Russia’s then president, Dmitri A. Medvedev. He was picked up by an open microphone telling Mr. Medvedev that “after my election I have more flexibility” on missile defense, which Republicans said was evidence that he was preparing to trade away elements of the arsenal.
Among the most outspoken advocates of a deep cut has been a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. James E. Cartwright, whom Mr. Obama continues to turn to on strategic issues. General Cartwright has argued that a reduction to 900 warheads would still guarantee American safety, even if only half of them were deployed at any one time.
“The world has changed, but the current arsenal carries the baggage of the cold war,” General Cartwright said last year. The challenges of North Korea, which is preparing a third nuclear test, and the possibility that Iran will get the bomb pose very different kinds of threats to the United States, and do not require the ability to deliver the kind of huge first strike that was the underlying logic of a large arsenal to face off against the Soviet Union.
“What is it we’re really trying to deter?” General Cartwright asked. “Our current arsenal does not address the threats of the 21st century.”
It is unclear how much money would be saved by the nuclear reduction plan that Mr. Obama is about to endorse; partly that depends on how the cuts are spread among the three elements of America’s nuclear “triad”: land-based missiles in silos, missiles aboard hard-to-find nuclear submarines, and nuclear bombers.
“These cuts don’t require a radical change in the triad, and that makes it politically easier,” said Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, which has argued for deep cuts. General Cartwright’s more radical plans, by some estimates, would have saved at least $120 billion over the next two decades.
But Mr. Obama is already moving quietly, officials acknowledge, to explore whether he can scale back a 10-year, $80 billion program to modernize the country’s weapons laboratories.
The White House agreed to the spending on the weapons labs as the price of winning Republican votes on the new Start three years ago, but one senior defense official said late last year that “the environment of looking for cuts in the national security budget makes this an obvious target.”
Mr. Obama’s advisers have said he is unlikely to simply announce American cuts unilaterally, though President George W. Bush took a similar step his first year in office before negotiating a short treaty with Mr. Putin that passed the Senate with little rancor.
Along with the executive order on cybersecurity, the administration plans to try again this year to get comprehensive cyberlegislation passed by Congress.
Last month, Senators Tom Carper, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, introduced a cybersecurity bill similar to the one that administration had hoped to pass in 2012.
“We want to foster notice and we want to foster information-sharing requirements,” Janet Napolitano, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said in a recent interview on the legislation. “We want to take care of some of the nuts and bolts like relaxing Civil Service requirements so we can hire more competitively. Really the things that can’t be done by an executive order.”
Ms. Napolitano said that she hoped it would be a high priority for Congress. But “in the meantime we can’t stand still,” she said.
Michael S. Schmidt and Thom Shanker contributed reporting.
North Korea stages nuclear test in defiance of bans
Regime confirms it set off its third nuclear bomb, signalled by an earthquake detected by South Korea, Japan and the US
Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Tania Branigan in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 12 February 2013 09.06 GMT
North Korea has drawn widespread condemnation after conducting a nuclear test in defiance of international bans – a development signalled by an earthquake detected in the country and later confirmed by the regime.
The test, which took place in the north-east of the country just before noon local time, could bring North Korea a step closer to developing a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile and possibly bringing the west coast of the US within striking distance.
The authorities in Pyongyang said scientists had set off a "miniaturised" nuclear device with a greater explosive force than those used in two previous nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009.
"It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturised and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment," KCNA, the North's official news agency, announced.
The agency said the test had been in response to "outrageous" US hostility that "violently" undermined the regime's right to peacefully launch satellites – a reference to the condemnation and tighter sanctions that greeted Pyongyang's successful rocket launch almost two months ago.
Tuesday's test was quickly condemned by the UN general secretary, Ban Ki-moon, who said it was "deplorable" that Pyongyang had defied international calls to abandon it, adding that it was a "clear and grave violation of the relevant UN security council resolutions".
Barack Obama said the test was a highly provocative act that violated security council resolutions and posed a threat to US and international security. The US president called for "further swift and credible action by the international community" against North Korea.
China, once North Korea's closest ally, said it strongly opposed the test and warned North Korea to avoid any actions that could worsen the situation on the Korean peninsula.
"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, heedless of widespread international opposition, has again carried out a nuclear test, to which the Chinese government expresses its firm opposition," the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.
"It is China's firm stance to realise non-nuclearisation for the Korean peninsula and prevent nuclear proliferation and maintain peace and stability in northeast Asia," the statement said.
Russia's foreign ministry said the Kremlin "decisively condemned" the test.
William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, joined the international chorus of condemnation and warned that North Korea faced further isolation if it did not stop developing its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.
Timing of North Korea's nuclear test follows long-established pattern
Key moments in Pyongyang's idiosyncratic style of diplomacy tend to coincide with significant dates and anniversaries
Justin McCurry in Tokyo
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 12 February 2013 11.07 GMT
It should perhaps have been obvious that North Korea's third nuclear test would take place just as the president of its "sworn enemy", the US, prepares to make his state of the union address.
Hijacking Barack Obama's speech in Washington later on Tuesday is part of a pattern of behaviour the North established with rocket launches and nuclear tests during the dictatorship of Kim Jong-il, and maintained by his son, Kim Jong-un.
Significant dates and anniversaries, in North Korea and in parts of the world whose attention it craves, have come to act as a loose guide for observers to the possible timing of key moments in Pyongyang's idiosyncratic style of diplomacy.
In selecting a date for the latest test, Kim, fresh from the launch of his country's first satellite into orbit on 12 December – five days before the first anniversary of his father's death – was spoiled for choice.
The state of the union aside, the test will give the Pyongyang propaganda machine reason to highlight its proximity to Kim Jong-il's birthday on Saturday.
In addition, the administrations in three of North Korea's neighbours – China, South Korea and Japan – have unwittingly contrived to lend extra international weight to Tuesday's controlled underground blast.
Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has been in office a little over a month, while South Korea will inaugurate its first female president, Park Geun-hye, on 25 February. China, which had urged Pyongyang to abandon the test, will complete its once-in-a-decade leadership transition when Xi Jinping officially takes office in March.
Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert at Leeds University, says the North times its military adventures to irritate its critics, particularly South Korea, Japan and the US.
The latest rocket and nuclear test "one-two" was also intended for Kim Jong-un's domestic audience. "He needed to show the North Koreans that he is indeed a chip off the old block, that he can do the business," Foster-Carter said. "That doesn't necessarily mean that he won't sit down and talk in the future but he has made it incredibly difficult to do that."
Virginie Grzelczyk, an expert on North Korea at Nottingham Trent University, said: "This news comes a day ahead of President Obama's state of the union address, and whether or not this was correlated is unknown at this point."
Whatever the motive, however, the move is likely to put North Korea at the top of the "to do list" of the new US secretary of state, John Kerry, she added.
There is historical evidence that domestic and diplomatic factors appear to hold more sway than simply honouring anniversaries connected to North Korea's first family and their purported revolutionary exploits.
The country's second nuclear test, in 2009, came a year after Kim Jong-il is reported to have had a stroke, paving the way for Kim Jong-un, his youngest son, to be groomed for the succession. In detonating a nuclear device, the regime made clear its nuclear programme would continue even at a time of political uncertainty.
Analysts believe Pyongyang's first nuclear test, in 2006, was designed to strengthen its hand just before it agreed to rejoin now-stalled nuclear talks in Beijing with China, the US, Russia, South Korea and Japan.
Before its nuclear ambitions became clear, the North's provocations centred on missile tests; in 1998, several days before the country marked the 50th anniversary of the Korean peninsula's independence from Japan; and in 2006 and 2009, when the tests were conducted on or around 4 July, overshadowing the more innocent displays of pyrotechnics marking US independence day celebrations.
But by attaching importance to auspicious dates, North Korea risks humiliation when things do not go according to plan.
Kim Jong-un had been in office for just four months when a rocket launch on 13 April last year failed less than two minutes after liftoff – two days before the centennial of the birth of the country's founder, Kim Il-sung.
02/12/2013 02:02 PM
Nuclear Detonation: Test Shows North Korea Prefers Bomb Over Aid
By Andreas Lorenz
With his nuclear test on Tuesday, North Korea's Kim Jong Un has shown that he is likely to continue his country's policy of force and deterrance over reconciliation with the international community. China has criticized the detonation, but its support for Pyongyang is unlikely to evaporate.
The earth shook on Tuesday for about a minute, but it was very clear to North Korea's Chinese neighbors in the Jilin province that is wasn't an earthquake they were experiencing. It was another nuclear test undertaken by Pyongyang.
The detonation took place at about 12 p.m. local time around 1 kilometer beneath the surface of the Punggye Ri testing site only about 100 kilometers (62 miles) away from the Chinese border.
Tuesday's test was the third nuclear detonation to take place in North Korea, but the first to happen under dictator Kim Jong Un. The country's official KCNA news agency said it had been carried out in a "safe and perfect manner" and that a "miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously" had been used. North Korea had conducted earlier nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
The test immediately prompted angry reactions around the world -- in Germany, Europe, the United States and beyond.
'A Blatant Attack'
In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has called for further sanctions to be imposed against North Korea. He called the test a "blatant attack" against United Nations Security Council resolutions. He said the international community must now find a "clear position." "Further sanctions against the regime in Pyongyang must also be considered," he said. Westerwelle said the issue would also be addressed at a meeting next Monday of EU foreign ministers.
In Brussels, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, condemned in the "strongest possible terms" the action. "This nuclear test is a further blatant challenge to the global non-proliferation regime and an outright violation of (North Korea's) international obligations not to produce or test nuclear weapons." Ashton said the EU will work with its global partners to "build a firm and unified response" aimed at demonstrating to Pyongyang there would be consequences if it does not abandon its nuclear weapons program.
And in Washington, President Barack Obama called it a "highly provocative act" that "undermines regional stability" and called for "swift and credible action" from the international community. A response could begin to take shape on Tuesday in the course of an emergency session of the UN Security Council in New York.
A Thorn In Side of Beijing-Pyongyang Relations
China, one of the few countries that supports the regime in Pyongyang, also criticized the underground bomb test. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing issued a statement expressing its "staunch opposition." It also urged its ally to "honor its commitment to denuclearization and not to take action that may worsen the situation."
Chinese officials had already responded critically to a North Korean rocket test in December, even supporting additional UN sanctions against Pyongyang, although it only did so after forcing other Security Council members to weaken them. Tuesday's detonation threatens to strain relations further.
China's steps on Tuesday suggest that new Communist Party boss Xi Jingping's position on North Korea isn't likely to differ considerably from that of his predecessor, Hu Jintao, who also criticized North Korean missile and nuclear tests but at the same time sought to soften international sanctions and called for "wise and measured" reactions in order to "prevent the situation from escalating."
North Korea is an important provider of natural resources for China. The isolated country also provides a strategic buffer between China and the remaining East Asian countries as well as the United States.
"China has a dilemma," an editorial in the Global Times, a Beijing Communist Party English-language newspaper that is often nationalistic in tone, stated in late January. "We are further away from the goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and there's no possible way for us to search for a diplomatic balance between North Korea and South Korea, Japan and the US."
It added that Beijing "will not hesitate" to reduce its assistance to North Korea in the event of a nuclear test, the paper predicted at the time. But if the US, Japan and South Korea back extreme UN sanctions on North Korea, "China will resolutely stop them and force them to amend these draft resolutions." Let them "grumble about China," it continued. "We have no obligation to soothe their feelings." "China hopes for a stable peninsula, but it's not the end of the world if there's trouble there," it concluded.
In addition to tensions with China, the testing is also likely to further worsen relations with neighboring South Korea, where the country's new president, Park Geun-hye, is to be inaugurated in two weeks. In contrast to his predecessor Lee Myung-bak, Geun-hye has said he would consider opening a dialogue with North Korea, but Tuesday's test won't make this any easier.
'Most Damaging Results'
Pyongyang is claiming the bomb had a force of 10 kilotons, much greater than the two to seven kilotons that US scientists had earlier assumed.
"If the North Koreans can explode a device with a yield in that range, then they most likely can produce a Nagasaki-like bomb with a yield of 20 kilotons," former Los Alamos National Laboratory director Siegfried Hecker, one of the few foreign experts who has been provided with access to nuclear facilities n North Korea, recently wrote in Foreign Policy magazine.
It appears that North Korea has succeeded in building a bomb that is small enough that it could be mounted on a mid- or long-range missile. This could also make the world, particularly Asia, more unstable because it has the potential to spark an arms race. Analysts believe it is highly likely that the United States, Japan and South Korea will respond by strengthening their missile defenses in the near future.
It remains unclear whether the bomb detonated on Tuesday was a plutonium bomb or one created using enriched uranium. The Americans, South Koreans and Japanese will first have to measure the radioactivity in the surrounding area before knowing for sure what kind of bomb it was.
Force and Deterrence
But that information will be important. Nuclear experts do not believe that Kim is in possession of large quantities of plutonium. If it was a uranium bomb, then the North Koreans have succeeded in secretly producing enriched uranium with the help of numerous centrifuges. A detonation would be technically possible with either material.
US expert Hecker fears that one of the "most damaging results" of the test is that North Korea could sell its knowledge of nuclear bomb technology -- to Iran, for example, which wouldn't need to conduct any nuclear tests on its own if it had access to Pyongyang's expertise. "Sharing Pyongyang's nuclear test experience with Tehran similarly to how it has shared missile technologies will greatly increase the Iranian nuclear threat," Hecker noted.
It appears clear that Kim is continuing to focus his country's policies on force and deterrence and, as Hecker argues, like his father, "has chosen bombs over electricity." The development is likely to make negotiations between North Korea and Obama and the new South Korean government more difficult now -- and deliveries of food and energy to Pyongyang are likely to get pushed back even further.
The consequence of all this is that North Korea has become a serious nuclear power, but one whose people are condemned to remain poor.
North Korea test seen as setback to new U.S. approach
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 1:55 EST
North Korea’s third nuclear test looks likely to set back any new diplomatic drive from the United States, which had seen glimmers of hope with the new cast of leaders in the region.
The renewed crisis comes just as all three key regional players — China, Japan and South Korea — go through transitions to leaders who in varying ways have hinted they are seeking new ways to handle the regional pariah.
US President Barack Obama has made engagement a key priority in his foreign policy, but had largely given up hope on North Korea and embraced what his aides called “strategic patience” — waiting for change from the regime.
Administration officials had hoped for fresh ideas from South Korean president-elect Park Geun-Hye, but calls during her electoral campaign to reach out to North Korea will be complicated at the very least by the nuclear test.
In a replay of the fallout of North Korea’s nuclear explosion in 2009, the country’s third test comes as Obama is still putting together a new team, with Asia policymakers from his first term stepping down.
Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia who quit on Friday, said that the United States had been consulting with Park to coordinate on North Korea.
“It was very clear that as they go forward, they want to go forward in tandem with the United States in any effort to carefully and responsibly begin a dialogue with the North,” Campbell said on January 29 after visiting Seoul.
Campbell warned that a nuclear test “could have a deeply negative consequence in terms of creating an environment where it’s difficult to resume the kind of diplomacy that we all hope for.”
Park has promised to take a new approach on North Korea after the hard line of outgoing president Lee Myung-Bak, a close ally of Obama.
In North Korea’s main ally China, where Xi Jinping is preparing to take over as president, state-run media had been unusually critical of the plans to test a bomb.
China’s Global Times has warned that the relationship sealed in the 1950-53 Korean War may break down over a nuclear test, although many experts doubt Beijing would prefer the prospect of a unified, US-allied Korea on its border.
“North Korea has a remarkable knack for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They did this when the Obama administration offered the potential of a hand” in 2009, said Charles Armstrong, director of the Center for Korea Studies at Columbia University.
“Something similar is happening. Park Geun-Hye could have been poised to do something very positive in North-South relations, but now it’s going to be very difficult for her,” he said.
“From my understanding, the mood in Washington is just to ignore this and not even make North Korea’s nuclear program a significant issue among foreign policy concerns,” he said.
Armstrong warned of risks, saying: “North Korea is not going to go away. The more this issue is ignored, the more North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and the more the potential for instability are going to grow.”
Duyeon Kim, senior non-proliferation and East Asia fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, also doubted that the United States or South Korea would try new ideas on North Korea.
“It’s very difficult to expect Washington or Seoul to engage North Korea anytime soon,” she said.
She said that North Korea appeared to be “playing offense” by seeking recognition as a nuclear weapons state.
One year ago, the United States had voiced guarded hope over the North’s young leader Kim Jong-Un and flirted with a new approach, reaching a deal to provide badly needed food aid in exchange for a nuclear and missile freeze.
US officials privately call the deal a mistake, saying they failed to realize that North Korea would not be dissuaded from a rocket launch for the centennial, in April last year, of the birth of regime founder Kim Il-Sung.
US officials hope the nuclear test will at least give common cause to Park and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a conservative whose views on colonial history have been seen as a potential impediment to closer ties among the two.
February 12, 2013
Nuclear Test Poses Big Challenge to China’s New Leader
By JANE PERLEZ
BEIJING — The nuclear test by North Korea on Tuesday, in defiance of warnings by China, leaves the new Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, with a choice: Does he upset North Korea just a bit by agreeing to stepped up United Nations sanctions, or does he rattle the regime by pulling the plug on infusions of Chinese oil and investments that keep North Korea afloat?
The test poses a major foreign policy challenge to Mr. Xi, the new head of the Communist Party, who has said he wants the United States and China to develop a “new type of relationship between two great powers.” How Mr. Xi deals with North Korea in the coming period could tell the United States what kind of leader he will be, and what kind of relationship he envisions with Washington.
Already he has shown himself to be more of a nationalist than his predecessor, Hu Jintao, displaying China’s determination to prevail in the East China Sea crisis in which China is trying to wrest control of islands administered by Japan. He has also displayed considerably more interest in China’s military, visiting bases and troops in the last two months with blandishments to soldiers to be combat ready.
To improve the strained relationship with the United States, Mr. Xi could start with getting tougher on North Korea, harnessing China’s clout with the outlier government to help slow down its nuclear program. If Mr. Xi does not help in curbing the North Koreans, he will almost certainly face accelerated ballistic missile defense efforts by the United States in Northeast Asia, especially with Japan, an unpalatable situation for China.
But if Mr. Xi took the measures against North Korea that the United States wants, Chinese and American analysts say, Mr. Xi would risk destabilizing North Korea, spurring its collapse and pushing the creation of a unified Korean Peninsula that could well turn out to be an American ally. An American controlled Korean Peninsula is not an option for Mr. Xi, the analysts agree.
The first reaction from the Chinese government was relatively mild, and suggested no immediate change in policy or attitude to North Korea. A statement on the Foreign Ministry website said that the government was expressing its "staunch opposition" to the test and "strongly urges" North Korea to abide by its commitment to denuclearization.
Later in the day, the Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, summoned the North Korean ambassador, Ji Jae Ryong, to express his opposition to the test.
After North Korea’s second nuclear test in 2009, the Obama administration excoriated Mr. Hu, accusing him of “willful blindness” to the country’s actions.
“With Hu out of the picture the administration is intent on determining whether Xi Jinping will prove more attentive to U.S. security concerns,” Jonathan D. Pollack, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution said. “How Xi chooses to respond will be an important early signal of his foreign policy priorities and whether he is ready to cooperate much more openly and fully with Washington and Seoul than his predecessor.”
A more heightened debate about North Korea is now swirling around China’s foreign policy circles, but whether the voices of a tough policy on North Korea can prevail remains very uncertain.
Despite the increasing concern in some quarters about North Korea’s wayward behavior, that dread of losing a buffer still prevails among China’s most influential policy makers, particularly in the military, according to Jia Qingguo, a professor at Beijing University’s School of International Studies who is a proponent of a new policy toward North Korea.
”It’s better than before, but it is still difficult to overcome” the mind-set, he said. “A lot of people are taking the very old-fashioned belief that North Korea is a strategic buffer, and they still believe American invaders would march over North Korea to come to China.”
Professor Jia, who visited Washington last month, says China should use wayward North Korea as a starting point for a more cooperative relationship with the United States. “One option is North Korea,” he said. “We have to work together to stop it becoming a nuclear power.”
Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Beijing University who is also a proponent of a tougher stance against North Korea, said Chinese news media accounts stressing the need for punishing North Korea in a more meaningful way were an encouraging sign.
”They are quite rare signals, and I don’t recall any moment during the past 10 years that Beijing unequivocally and forcefully spoke up against Pyongyang’s nuclear tricks,” he said.
Professor Zhu described Mr. Hu as “indecisive” on North Korea. While Mr. Xi is seen as a “more nationalistic” leader, he is also “more pragmatic,” and sees that Beijing has run out of “good will options,” Professor Zhu said.
China agreed to join the United States in backing new United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang after the successful test in December of a missile that reached the Philippines.
In response to China’s joining the sanctions, North Korea unleashed a scathing attack on China and vowed to push ahead with the third nuclear test. China will almost certainly join a new round of sanctions, Chinese analysts said.
But for all China’s distaste for North Korea — culturally and politically the two governments stand far apart — China will most likely remain a firm ally of North Korea, said Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, North East Asia director and China adviser for the International Crisis Group in Beijing.
”The traditionalists in the People’s Liberation Army and the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party control North Korea policy,” she said. “The political relationship between China and North Korea right now is at a low point, but China’s longstanding priorities on the Korean Peninsula of no war, no instability and no nukes remain in that order of priority.”
China was prepared to live with a nuclear North Korea as long as the arsenal remained small and its nuclear status did not result in an arms race, she said.
But the third nuclear test takes North Korea another step closer to a nuclear weapon that can reach the United States, even though that accomplishment may be years away, said Siegfried S. Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation, at Stanford University. He visited North Korea two years ago and was shown the country’s uranium enrichment facilities.
If China fails to rein in North Korea, the United States will become increasingly impatient and ratchet up its defense capacities in Asia, and those of its allies, Mr. Hecker said.
“What is quite apparent to me is that threatening a missile-capable warhead with a successful third nuclear test gives the United States, South Korea and Japan good reason to step up their regional ballistic missile defense capabilities — that should give the Chinese government some pause.”
February 12, 2013
Test Seen as Push by Kim for Credibility
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — By defying warnings not only from the United States but also from its ally China to detonate a nuclear device on Tuesday, Kim Jong-un was attempting to increase his status both as a worthy leader among his people in North Korea and as a foe to be taken seriously among the nations his government considers its enemies.
Mr. Kim — still believed to be in his late 20s when he took over a highly militaristic regime following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in late 2011 — has recently emphasized a better living standard for his long-suffering people, generating hopes that he might lead his country out of its isolation. But at the same time, he has also shown himself to be his father’s son, launching a long-range rocket in December and threatening more missile and nuclear tests in the face of international sanctions.
With the nuclear test on Tuesday, Mr. Kim appeared to have chosen the defiant path for now, and analysts said there was good reasons for that.
“Now is a particularly opportune time for Kim Jong-un to reset his relations with the powers in the region,” said Lee Sung-yoon, a North Korea specialist at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts. “Pyongyang will calculate that after a decent interval of three or four months, its adversaries will return to negotiations, possibly with bigger blandishments in tow.”
North Korea’s latest provocation came at a time when none of the governments in the region wanted to deal with a foreign policy crisis. All the major powers in the North Pacific — including Japan, Russia and China — have recently undergone a leadership transition. In Washington, the second Obama administration started in January. South Korea is also in the middle of power transition, with President-elect Park Geun-hye scheduled to be sworn in on Feb. 25.
North Korea’s attempts to unsettle the region started in December, when the government successfully launched a long-range rocket, putting a satellite into orbit, the first for the impoverished country. That prompted the United Nations to tighten sanctions against North Korea and even made China, long considered its sole major protector at the United Nations Security Council, support the sanctions and chide the regime in Pyongyang.
But the satellite success appeared to also have emboldened Mr. Kim.
“He seems intent on pushing what he may see as his advantage, both domestically and internationally,” said Jonathan D. Pollack, a North Korea expert at the Brookings Institution. “Regardless of warnings from China, it is clear that Kim is not paying serious heed to more cautionary voices. This is someone who seems intent on conveying that he is running the show.”
Young and often dismissed in the West as “inexperienced” and “untested,” Mr. Kim has tried to demonstrate — through a recent series of harsh pronouncements from his government — that he was not someone who felt cowered by the prospects of more sanctions, which would further isolate his regime and impede whatever efforts he might have planned to revive his country’s moribund economy. North Korea even recently harshly criticized Beijing, vowing not to kowtow to any “big power,” an important stance for Mr. Kim to take as he tried to consolidate his grip on power among the country’s highly nationalistic military and other power elites.
North Korea’s nuclear and rocket programs represent the biggest achievements Mr. Kim can show to his people to prove his leadership and to legitimize the dynastic rule of his family ahead of the Feb. 16 birthday of his late father, a major North Korean holiday.
North Korea claimed Tuesday that the nuclear test was a success involving “a miniaturized and lightweight atomic bomb.” Governments in the region could not immediately verify that claim. They have long doubted that North Korea had mastered technology needed to build warheads small enough to mount on intercontinental ballistic missiles it was developing. But outside analysts have also suspected that the North may have acquired key bomb-building designs from the Pakistanis, considerably shortening the time it needed to produce miniaturized warheads.
The North Korean claim, even if not confirmed immediately, was likely to incite significant anxiety among regional governments and add urgency to diplomatic efforts to contain the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
“Although North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have long been analyzed as largely separate endeavors, they’re really two sides of the same coin — a coordinated effort to achieve full nuclear weaponization,” said John S. Park, a nuclear security fellow at M.I.T. “North Korea’s recent nuclear test is part of an ongoing effort to miniaturize warheads. In tandem, the reclusive regime is going to carry out more long-range missile tests to find ways to increase payload.”
Hours before the nuclear test, North Korea’s state-run news media reported a decision by the powerful Politburo of its ruling Workers’ Party to demand the launching of more long-range rockets, which Washington considers a cover for developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.
North Korea has recently declared that there will be no more talks on “denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula,” though it said it was interested in discussing “a peace treaty” with Washington, a longstanding goal in North Korean diplomacy. North Korea’s recent provocations led analysts to believe that the North’s nuclear and long-range missile programs were more than a bargaining chip aimed at Washington but rather were deeply tied with the regime’s survival strategy.
“Rather than raising the stakes in return for a stronger bargaining position in negotiations for concessions, the Kim Jong-un leadership appears to be committed to a path of strengthening regime security,” Mr. Park said. “Progress in this area enables Kim Jong-un to elevate North Korea above its southern neighbor. South Korea may be more wealthy, but North Korea is more powerful. Such a slogan would be an equalizer of sorts.”
North Korea’s nuclear test — especially if it used enriched uranium, rather than its limited stock pile of plutonium — raises serious implications, turning the country into a far more urgent proliferation threat to the new Obama administration. It also complicates the policies of other regional powers. The test makes it difficult for President-elect Park of South Korea to carry out new policies toward the North.
Given responses by Washington, Seoul and China to North Korea’s previous nuclear tests, some analysts say there may be little reason for Mr. Kim to fear a meaningful reprisal this time, either. The North’s past nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009, prompted sanctions but were eventually followed by American overtures for dialogue.
“We will see new sanctions this time, too,” said Lee Byong-chul, senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation in Seoul. “But North Korea is not afraid of being taken to the U.N. Security Council. They are experts in finding loopholes in U.N. sanctions; they have been surviving like that for decades.”
American officials warned that they were not going to buy “the same horse twice,” signaling a tougher penalty this time, which analysts say could compel Pyongyang to lash out in further provocations.
The attitudes in the Chinese leadership remain critical, analysts said. Despite its unhappiness with North Korea’s nuclear pursuit, China has long refused to cut off its oil and other economic lifeline to North Korea for fear of another concern: instability in the North.
“Will a new Chinese leadership be inclined to sustain the accommodation pursued by its predecessors, or will North Korea’s behavior so undermine Chinese interests that Beijing undertakes a reassessment of its underlying strategy?” said Mr. Pollack, who heads Brookings’ John L. Thornton China Center. “We have reached a delicate and potentially very dangerous moment in Korea.”